The Bishop And The Brexit Debate


Apparently, Brexit constitutes a “nightmare scenario” for the Bishop of Guildford. No surprise, coming from an established church with such a dubious record on democracy

Should bishops in the Church of England (or indeed the leaders of any other religious denomination) be free to speak their minds on the subject of Brexit and in advising their flocks how to vote in the coming EU referendum?

Of course they should. To suggest otherwise would be an unconscionable encroachment on religious liberty – the only exception being the intolerable Lords Spiritual whose anachronistic and unwelcome presence in the House of Lords makes Britain, like Iran, a technical theocracy.

But while non-political bishops have every right to express an opinion on Brexit, so we have the right to criticise their thinking on the subject, which tends to be woolly at best, and arrogant with a twist of elitism at worst.

King of the woolly thinkers is the Bishop of Guildford, who shared this recent gem on Twitter:

Adrian Hilton of Archbishop Cranmer dissects the Bishop of Guildford’s europhile ramblings over at Reimagining Europe:

So we read that the Brexit “nightmare” would be “very sad” because it would mark a return to “competing nationalisms” and “very dangerous times”. The EU has been “integral in delivering seven decades of peace and economic security”.We must resist the “widespread rise of populism” because “we are European” and “have nothing to fear or to lose if we remain so”. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, wants a ‘Third Way’, but that isn’t on the ballot paper. And the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, aims directly for the Tories, but this isn’t a general election. As you see, it’s all impeccable political neutrality with rigorous episcopal impartiality.

The laity and other clergy will, of course, make up their own minds, but what manner of neutrality is it when CofE comms tells the media that the institution is neither for remaining nor leaving, while many in the House of Bishops preach the Gospel of Remain? Would a bishop ever tweet that his (or her) “nightmare” would be to wake up to a Corbyn premiership? What guilt does the prospect of voting for the Bishops’ (it probably is plural) Brexit “nightmare scenario” inculcate in the spiritually-discerning democratic intellect of the laity and subordinate clergy?

And here is the crux:

Some say we’d be poorer; others that the cost of holidays would rise; still others that our power stations would go dark and terrorism would increase. There is equal expert opinion to the contrary in every case, and it’s hardly four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse stuff, is it? The matter of whether our national destiny is to be bound in perpetuity to an anti-democratic United States of Europe which is creeping, ratchet-like, toward continent-wide assimilation and uniformity cannot simply be distilled to short-term economic interests or security scaremongering.

I can understand Bishop Andrew’s desire to sustain a political union which is ostensibly based on sound Christian principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity. But, as Philip Booth has shown, the EU is antithetical to the very concept of localism, notwithstanding the letter of Maastricht. And I feel sure that the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and Portuguese might balk at assertions that the EU project is any longer concerned with fraternal solidarity, mutuality and social harmony.

This isn’t an organic social contract for diversity, liberty and limited state power, but a fabricated mechanism for the enforcement of national assimilation. When you’re locked – seemingly irrevocably – into a model of “economic governance” which hinders growth, destroys jobs, increases poverty, and leads mothers to abandon their children on the streets and fathers to commit suicide, I have to put to Bishop Andrew that his Brexit “nightmare scenario” would be welcomed by millions of Greeks as a dream of Grexit bliss.

The bishops’ willingness to swallow pro-EU talking points and then arrogantly sound off in public about how the EU has “kept the peace” and “delivered prosperity” is not just intellectually lazy. I would charge that it is a failure in their duty of pastoral care to all Christians in their flock, to accuse those who want Britain to leave the EU of trying to bring about a “nightmare scenario”.

Since when did believing in national democracy and sovereignty based at the level of a commonly understood demos represent a “nightmare” for the Church of England? Since when did the concept of self-determination (as opposed to slavishly following a pre-determined path toward unwanted European political integration set in motion decades ago) become unwelcome? And why is the Church willing to wring its hands and worry about human rights abuses and dictatorship abroad, but turn a blind eye when the rights of its own fellow citizens to determine the course of their own future is suppressed by Brussels?

At its root, the pro-European instincts of many bishops seem to rest in a desperate, stubborn insistence in seeing the world – and the European Union – as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is. As Hilton suggests, the idea of the bad aspects of nationalism being eroded and replaced by shared European values of a vaguely left-wing bent of “subsidiarity and solidarity” is all well and good. But there is no European demos, and the relentless march toward further integration in the absence of a shared feeling of European-ness above national identity will only compound the simmering resentment.

The Church of England would clearly love nothing so much as to operate in a world where the nation state was consigned to the history books, and where we are primarily governed at a European level – no doubt as a stepping stone toward one world government. And they are entitled to that worldview, premature and perverse though it is.

But the Church and her bishops should at least show some embarrassment and contrition at the fact that by casting any concern for democracy aside and throwing their lot in with the European Union, they are helping to impose an elitist vision of a politically united Europe which more people vehemently oppose than have been scared and bullied by the Remain campaign into meekly supporting.

It is not the job of any Christian (least of all me) to judge another’s adherence to and practising of their faith, and so I will pass no comment on whether Andrew Watson’s gnawing fear that the British people might vote for self-government makes him a bad Christian.

But I will say without hesitation or apology that it does make him a bad citizen, a weak example of a community leader and an emblem of everything that is wrong with the established church’s continued role in the political life of our country.


Church of England - Church and State - Parliament - Lords Spiritual - Cartoon - 2

Bottom Image: Abbreviated cartoon by Dave Walker

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